American Teen is a documentary that follows five high school seniors in Warsaw, Indiana through their senior year. It won the documentary director's award at Sundance in 2008.
This is one of those movies that Netflix suggested for me because I watch a lot of documentaries. You'll notice that the movie poster is fashioned after the famous poster from The Breakfast Club, and this movie attempts to pigeonhole these kids into the roles of Jock, Princess, Geek, etc. However, real people don't always fit neatly into movie role cliches.
I have mixed feelings about this one. It's certainly worth a watch, and reminded me of all of the pressure and drama of high school, no matter if you were a popular kid, a nerd kid, or somewhere in between. It's easy to romanticize that time when you had no financial or family responsibilities and just had to go to school. Although, now that I think about it, none of these kids were shown working after school jobs, and heaven knows I did from the time I was fifteen. Hmmmm.
Anyway, a lot of the action seems forced or staged, and I'm sure a person changes somewhat when they know a camera is following them. Some of their behavior is inexcusable, bordering on criminal. And some of their behavior seems obviously put on for the camera. But there are magical moments, when the kids sit down with a one on one confessional with the camera, when all of the facade breaks away, and we can see their realities in all of their complexity and confusion.
I felt I got to know these kids a bit during this little movie, and to understand their lives and situations a bit. I empathized with them, and that makes this a successful documentary. I even wonder how they are now, a couple of years later. It's not easy being seventeen. I wouldn't go back to that time for all the tea in China, as they say. And those who think it was easy either don't remember it clearly or lived a charmed life.
Just for the record, I was an in between kid, bordering on nerd girl.